Catholic World News

Christian college wins Supreme Court injunction in religious challenge to contraceptive mandate

July 04, 2014

The US Supreme Court has handed a temporary victory to a small Christian college that had challenged the federal mandate requiring coverage of contraceptives in employee health-care programs.

In a 6-3 decision, with the three female justices joining in an angry dissent, the Court granted an injunction sought by Wheaton College against enforcement of the contraceptive mandate, pending final court review of the college’s lawsuit.

Wheaton College had objected to the requirement to subsidize certain abortifacient contraceptives. The HHS mandate allows religious institutions to file a form stating their objections to such coverage. But by filing that form, the institutions trigger a requirement that their insurers will provide the contraceptive coverage. Wheaton had lodged an objection to filing that form, the Court ruling noted, “because it believes, as a religious matter, that signing the form would be impermissibly facilitating abortions.”

The Court ruled that Wheaton should be required only to state its moral objections to the contraceptive mandate in writing, without completing the form that HHS had required.

The Court’s brief majority ruling pointed out that under the policies explained by the federal government, the insurer providing health-care coverage to Wheaton employees would be required to cover contraceptive costs, regardless of the college’s refusal to contribute.

“Nothing in this interim order affects the ability of the applicant’s employees and students to obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives,” the Court majority said in its unsigned ruling. But in her stinging dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor claimed that the decision “risks depriving hundreds of Wheaton’s employees and students of their legal entitlement to contraceptive coverage.”

The dissenting justices charged that the ruling in Wheaton v. Burwell was a step back from the Court's recent ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which had seemed to endorse the government's policy that religious institutions should be required to file a form certifying their objection to the contraceptive mandate. The three justices warned that the Wheaton decision would undermine confidence in the Supreme Court.

The logic of the Wheaton ruling would appear to apply to Catholic schools and other institutions that have filed similar legal challenges to the HHS mandate. Justice Sotomayor acknowledged as much in her dissent, writing: “The issuance of an injunction in this case will presumably entitle hundreds or thousands of other objectors to the same remedy."

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  • Posted by: FredC - Jul. 06, 2014 12:26 PM ET USA

    The Hobby Lobby case ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is violated by the HHS mandate, not that the Constitution is violated by the HHS mandate. I guess Obamacare's HHS mandate give women the "legal entitlement" to contraceptive insurance, but, again, the court ruled on the basis of the RFRA, not the Constitution. We need the same ruling based on the RFRA.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Jul. 04, 2014 6:08 PM ET USA

    Finally we seem to be making some progress; unless there is another I gotcha.